For 78 days, Bethesda native Sutton Truluck was without a cell phone, computer or much of an idea what was going on in the world.
For him and about 15 others, the only worry was getting to the next camp site.
Truluck, a rising senior at Santa Clara University in California, was part of an almost three-month backpacking and camping wilderness expedition across 62 miles of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The trip was organized by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), which offers college credit for teaching participants technical outdoor skills and environmental studies and giving leadership training.
Truluck, a Georgetown Prep alum, said he stumbled on the program while looking for study abroad programs. When he couldn’t find a program that fit his course schedule, he signed up for NOLS.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into. In the beginning, just the basic things were difficult — sleeping and cooking meals. But each day you see yourself progressing more and more,” Truluck said.
The group started in January at the Mezquital Ranch on the west coast of the peninsula. The first section of the course consisted of hiking and the challenge of traveling through a desert. Participants had to figure out how to manage traveling without water.
“It’s not like summer camp,” Truluck said. “Your whole day is outside. Because of that, you have a lot of freedom.”
The counselors eventually let the students travel independently for four days and three nights. The group then spent a week training in kayaks before paddling its way through the Sea of Cortes. That section of the trip included dolphins that Truluck said would come up to the students’ boats.
“Going to bed exhausted yet excited to wake up and do it again the next day is a great feeling. I miss it,” Truluck said.
The students sailed through the final leg of the expedition, in and around the Loreto Islands.
When he got back, Truluck said he was shocked by the amount of notifications waiting for him on his iPhone. It let him reflect on just how unique his wilderness trip was.
“Now, I kind of look at them as distractions,” Truluck said. “You do think about how much time you spend staring at your phone, on Facebook. By the end, we all had a lot of autonomy.”